What if Religions were run like Sports?
Sports leagues are entertaining, and everyone knows who is talented and who is not. Religions are less entertaining, and one is never really sure of what the performers are doing! New “Religious Leagues” would change all of this for the better, reducing sin and bringing unity (plus box office)
Imagine a world where statistics were kept on every church goer and clergy, including good & bad works, tithes contributed, and service to one’s family and community. Imagine further that religious sects were divided into leagues which operated independently, but then had to meet in a kind of Super Bowl, where they would compete using the same standards, forcing the audience to see who was superior. And finally, imagine that this transparency and competition forced religions to form common standards and consensus for the betterment of society and reduction of government. What, in heaven’s name, would that look like?
Why would we imagine this thought experiment? Mostly because sports in the last 100 years has been a triumph of opportunity, transparency, and egalitarianism (not to mention entertaining) while religion is perhaps the perfect model of opacity (opposite of transparency?), lacking common standards while struggling for relevance. This is a frightening development as religion should be much more relevant than sports, while creating common ethics that decrease dependence on government (which is rather forced to form consensus).
That Islam, Christianity, and Judaism hate each other while sharing the same Old Testament God is sort of like the NFL, NBA, and MLB each saying they are the only “true” sports, which is silly. Further, to not have common standards regarding major issues such as killing, homosexuality, and education for women would be like sports creating racial barriers for player participation, changing rules from game to game, or banning all-sports-but-one from a particular country. This would be ridiculous (and revenue killing) in sports, but its more or less what religion tries to accomplish. In addition, the people running the religious “leagues” have way too much power and are sometimes corrupt, often managing to mishandle the team’s funds to cover up improprieties, such as sexual abuse.
Sports has meanwhile succeeded in elevating the underclass in a way that government or religion never could. A descendent of slaves can hope to do an in your face to Hitler (Jesse Owens) or break the color barrier in baseball (Jackie Robinson) in a ways that religion could only dream (unless you consider Martin Luther King a triumph of Christianity…I would say he more or less excelled in his own league). A descendent of American Indians can hope to become a great track athlete or one of the first successful football players (Jim Thorpe). This is because there are statistics and everyone knows where they stand, creating a meritocracy, since people like to watch those that are really good at something, without bias.
So what would the church leagues look like? Well in America, we would have leagues consisting of the Christian denominations. It might have the Catholics (who might be the New York Yankees of the league, being the largest and most successful denomination), Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Baptists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, Mormons, and Episcopalians, while the lesser religions (Seventh Day Adventists, Christian Scientists, Anglicans, Congregationalists, Quakers, and Jehovah’s Witnesses) would fight it out in the minor leagues. There would be stats for each individual church, including attendance, good/bad works, measures of faith, money raised, and referees to insure that the statistics were taken properly. Then the churches would go head to head in the places that needed service like the inner cities or needy third world countries. In a competitive fashion, they would get parents to quit drinking/doing drugs, not hit each other or their kids, and quit wasting their money, while attempting to get good jobs. They would accomplish this by utilizing their own strategies while observing the league rules, which emphasize the common ethics of labor unites/doctrine divides.
The rules would be simple (like the 10 commandments, and Jesus’ 5, thou shalt forgive, redeem, be humble, not judge, and not be a usurer) for fear that “rule minutia” would clutter the spectacle and decrease fan interest (just like real sports). Bizarre things like the Book of Leviticus or the Earth being 10,000 years old would be thrown out altogether, in the interest of streamlining (just like when a foul ball being strike three, the drop-kick, or the standing broad-jump were eliminated). If a participant insisted on speaking in tongues, making members pay money to get into heaven, or covered up illicit sexual affairs claiming God’s forgiveness, they would get a tongue-lashing from umpires, and certainly be tossed from the game (if not banned), and they might even be ineligible for induction into the religious Hall of Fame in Rome, Jerusalem or Mecca.
There would certainly be minor cheating (called “strategy” by some members) and umpires/referees would be busy trying to see everything and make calls. There would certainly be pressure for electronic monitoring of all potential sin and good works, but the best we could hope for would be “replay”, in which the referees gathered around watching a redo of the overcharge, punch, innuendo, please, thank you, “Our Father”, or what-have-you, to determine if it matched the original call. European participants (and Manu Ginobili) might become known for “flopping” (pretending to be so offended by another’s “sin” that they fell down and hurt their ankle, or wrenched their shoulder in the act of helping an old lady across the street, so as to “get the call”).
There might even be a draft, whereby the poorest performing denominations (currently the Presbyterians, who are struggling after a great run in the 1800s?), would receive the top high school and college prospects in each round of the draft. Top performers (the Catholics and Evangelicals?) might need to take a chance on inner-city thugs or unknown foreign prospects, but then parity in the league would eventually strengthen competition and fan interest. Prospects who were not Christian altogether may qualify as “free agents”, given that they would need more time to develop.
This religious league would certainly be a work in progress, as fans would demand only the best performance of the religious participants, whose financial fortunes would hinge on how well they performed. Evangelicals, for instance, might need to put a little more relevance into their game, for fear of being sent down to the bush leagues. New aspiring denominations (New Agers?) might apply for a new franchise, and the other established “teams” would have to decide if they were worthy (after all, a good booing of the fledgling New Age franchise might boost Catholic or Lutheran attendance?) Great ministers, proselytizers, and doers of good works might get their own bubble gum cards or shoe endorsements (unfortunately, so would great evil-doers…remember, this is America).